Iris Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s final play The Tempest takes the form of a gentle promenade in which the audience is seated at various points around St Paul’s Covent Garden’s churchyard, amongst its array of roses and hollyhocks.
With its intention to pay homage to the church’s architect Inigo Jones’s court masques, it’s an agreeable way to spend a summer evening, even if it only gently charms rather than enchants.
Daniel Winder’s staging feels a bit like the crazy patchwork of Trinculo’s jester’s costume. Caliban (Prince Plockey) is introduced in chains but the cruelty of his treatment by Prospero is underexplored. The use of the church itself for Miranda and Ferdinand’s betrothal masque is the production’s high point, a realm where the ‘true faith’ and paganism meet.
With her feline movements and mellifluous singing, Charlotte Christensen delicately mercurial Ariel is a highlight, an entirely believable agent of magic tricks, including oranges and tomatoes plucked from the air. Jamie’s Newall’s world-weary Prospero is bit of a mystery, though he tenderly conveys affection towards Miranda and Ariel. Joanne Thomson fares better as a sage Gonzalo than an overwrought Miranda, and Paul Brendan makes the most of the comedy that can be wrung out of the drunken, petulant Trinculo.
Design-wise, the costuming is mostly traditional cod-Jacobean and the courtiers’ shiny satiny outfits are rather ‘fancy dress’. Other productions of The Tempest have mined the colonial subtext and to play it largely straightforwardly as a fairytale is a valid interpretation, but it’s hard to ignore the feeling that something is missing.